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Statement on management of the Lety memorial from Committee for the Redress of the Roma Holocaust

Prague, 6.8.2013 20:39, (ROMEA)
The annual commemorative ceremony every May at Lety by Písek has recently been attended by many Romani people, the direct surviving relatives of the victims, and many ambassadors of foreign states, as well as clergy from various churches and Jewish representatives. The Czech Government has been represented there by Human Rights Commissioner Monika Šimůnková. This photograph from the May 2012 wreath-laying is of U.S. Ambassador Norman L. Eisen, who attended the 2013 ceremony as well.
The annual commemorative ceremony every May at Lety by Písek has recently been attended by many Romani people, the direct surviving relatives of the victims, and many ambassadors of foreign states, as well as clergy from various churches and Jewish representatives. The Czech Government has been represented there by Human Rights Commissioner Monika Šimůnková. This photograph from the May 2012 wreath-laying is of U.S. Ambassador Norman L. Eisen, who attended the 2013 ceremony as well.

The relatives of the Romani victims of the Holocaust and several Romani organizations have issued a statement expressing their opinion that the Lidice Memorial (Památník Lidice) is not administering the remembrance site at Lety by Písek in an appropriate, sensitive manner. News server Romea.cz publishes the statement here in full translation.

Appeal from the Committee for the Redress of the Roma Holocaust (Výbor pro odškodnění romského holocaustu - VPORH)

Hořice, 5 August 2013

Dear fellow Roma,

We, the undersigned Romani individuals whose family members were victimized by Nazism (i.e., who were imprisoned in the concentration camp at Lety by Písek), together with the organizations listed below, are turning to all Romani people, irrespective of social position, with the following appeal:  If the Lidice Memorial convenes another commemorative ceremony at the place of rest for the Romani victims of the concentration camp at Lety, please do not participate in it. 

We also urgently ask the Government of the Czech Republic to relieve the Lidice Memorial of the task of caring for the place of remembrance at the site of the former concentration camp at Lety and to secure the site in a dignified way corresponding to the Romani culture of the victims and their surviving relatives. Several facts have led us to issue this appeal.

Our culture, for centuries, has forbidden us to enjoy ourselves in the places where our dead are buried, to say nothing of holding concerts there. The management of the memorial has been warned many times about this aspect of our culture, but has not taken it on board.

On 1 August 2013 a concert of popular music was held at the site of the victims' resting place, violating the culture of the victims and their surviving relatives. The burial site of the victims of Nazism at Lety is not the same as a club in Prague.

Commemoration ceremonies managed by the surviving relatives of the victims have been held in accordance with their culture every year on 13 May since 1998. Those ceremonies have satisfied those attending from the Committee for the Redress of the Roma Holocaust in the Czech Republic, which brings together surviving victims of the Lety camp and their relatives.

The fact that care for the memorial site of the former Gypsy Camp (Cikánský tábor / Zigeunerlager) at Lety was transferred the Lidice Memorial (i.e., to a state-financed organization) by Government Decree no. 589 on 4 May 2009 is no reason to break with our established tradition. The management of the memorial, through their insensitivity and posturing regarding the burial site of these victims of Nazism, has provoked us into speaking up.

The Lidice Memorial management has been awarded the administration of the burial sites of the Romani victims of the former concentration camp at Lety by negotiating with the surviving relatives in a way that has turned out to be dishonorable. The management at Lidice should not be administering a Romani Holocaust site or holding commemorative ceremonies at a place where moral principles are supposed to predominate.

We are offended by the gross distortion of the basic historical facts in the texts that are now part of the signage on the walking trail through the site and the entire exhibition there. This distortion is humiliating for the victims of the Romani Holocaust and their surviving relatives.

The online presentation about Lety at www.lety-memorial.cz, which is run by the Lidice Memorial with the taxpayers' money, is a testament to their unprofessional approach and contains many arbitrary, subjective claims, to put it mildly. The same goes for the informational placards posted near the mass grave site.

For the sake of brevity we will list only a few examples here (we will not go into too much detail regarding the careless, misleading terminology used). The camp, from 2 August 1942 until it was closed, was officially termed by the Nazis a Cikánský tábor / Zigeunerlager (Gypsy Camp). The authors of the texts use different names for the camp, sometimes calling it a cikánský (gypsy) camp, elsewhere using the term so-called gypsy camp, and lastly using the term in quotation marks ("cikánský" - "gypsy"). Why does the current administration of the camp not also inform people through these materials that part of the concentration camp at Auschwitz - Birkenau was also a camp for Romani families, that that section at Auschwitz was also officially called a Gypsy Camp at the time, and that today it is usually referred to as an extermination camp by scholars?

The materials also claim that the recent landscaping of the site allegedly was the "formal culmination of the long-term efforts of the Committee for the Redress of the Roma Holocaust" and other interested entities. As far as VPROH is concerned, this untrue statement intentionally suggests to the reader that our committee is satisfied with the current arrangements - or that they were what we have been striving for all along.

The main effort of VPORH since it was created in 1998 has always been and continues to be removing the industrial pig farm from the site of the former concentration camp at Lety by Písek.

In this context, we consider it especially misleading and tendentious to see how the Lidice Memorial website handles our 15-year effort to get this desecrating facility removed. The main material it presents on its website about this issue is a statement from the Agrarian Chamber of Písek and the Ministry of Agriculture of the Czech Republic from 1998 (?!).     

The intention to remove the industrial pig farm now standing at the site of the former concentration camp was included in the Program Declaration of the Tošovský government of 1998 - and not only then. Similar intentions were expressed through resolutions adopted by the government of Prime Minister Zeman in 1999 and particularly by a resolution adopted by the Špidla government of 2002. However, all of those expressed intentions remain unrealized.

Options for removing the farm have been at least researched by all of the governments up until 2009. Last but not least, the demand to close (or move) the industrial pig farm is part of the current program documents of the Czech Social Democratic Party (ČSSD), as recently confirmed by the unequivocal statement to that effect by the Vice-Chair of the Senate and member of the ČSSD Presidium, Czech Senator Alena Gajdůšková.

We also remind you that removing the industrial pig farm from this site has also been called for by not one, but two European Parliament resolutions from 2005 and 2008. In an evaluation report dated 11 March 2011, the Council of Europe's Human Rights Commissioner, Thomas Hammarberg, also turned to the Czech Republic with this same request.

We would like to draw attention here to Commissioner Hammarberg's fundamental idea, which is that removing the pig farm from the site of the concentration camp at Lety, together with systematically disseminating facts about Romani history, would be an important contribution to the fight against intolerance against Romani people ("anti-Gypsyism") and would also support social cohesion and tolerance in the Czech Republic. We have been speaking of removing this desecrating facility in that very same spirit for years.

Nobel Prize winners Günther Grass and Simon Wiesenthal have also asked the Czech Republic to close the pig farm at the site of the former concentration camp. Most recently the Czech Republic was asked to remove this desecrating facility from the site of the Lety concentration camp by the UN Human Rights Committee, and that appeal was supported by Czech Government Human Rights Commissioner Monika Šimůnková, as well as by many Romani organizations.

Those who survived the concentration camps and their relatives cannot agree with the claims made by various Czech governments that the removal of the industrial pig farm cannot be "put through" for economic or social reasons. We are convinced that our proposal to establish a fund for Lety in order to raise money for the relocation of this disgraceful facility would be accepted by society with gratitude, as recently happened in the case of the closure of the recreation center at a similar site in Hodonín by Kunštát.

We consider the most serious error of the Lidice Memorial's online presentation and its signage at the memorial site to be the fact that its texts lack proper contextualization in Czech, Czechoslovak, and European history and avoid some crucial questions altogether. These gaps concern not only developments prior to WWII (e.g., the persecution of Romani people carried out during the Second Czechoslovak Republic), but also postwar developments such as the building of the industrial pig farm during the 1970s and 1980s, the privatization of the farm after 1990, the purpose of the efforts to remove it in order to improve coexistence between the majority and the Romani minority, the texts' silence (or at best, mystification) around the very existence of the pig farm (!), and the fact that none of those responsible for the crimes committed in the Lety concentration camp (which involved small children, among others), were ever punished after the war. 

The information board in the exhibition near the mass grave site contains insulting, simplifying, and unjustifiable judgments about the "different cultural and social level" of the postwar Romani migrants to the Czech lands from Slovakia compared to the pre-war Romani communities in Bohemia and Moravia. Their "level" is alleged to comprise one of the obstacles to good coexistence between the Romani minority and the majority society today.

Naturally, there does exist a problem with integrating some Romani groups into this society and it certainly would be very useful to convene an expert seminar on this topic. However, the exhibition at Lety is not such a seminar and is supposed to have an important educational and informational dimension to it.

What are the Romani people with Slovak roots, who comprise the vast majority of today's Romani population in this country, supposed to feel when reading this publicly posted text? How are any parents supposed to explain these generalizing, problematic texts to their children - not to mention the fact that they are posted at a place of remembrance?

In our opinion, it is also a shame that the authors of the exhibition do not familiarize visitors more in depth with what everyday life in the camp was like. They could do this in one of the replicas of the original accommodation cells in particular just by posting a copy of the original daily schedule of the camp for visitors to read - that would be of irreplaceable value as a testament to what it was like for those imprisoned there.

Finally, it is indicative of the Lidice Memorial's entire approach that there is no mention on the information placards about what an industrial pig farm on the territory of the former camp symbolizes for the survivors and their relatives. From their point of view this is nothing less than the ongoing abasement of the Romani victims. 

Unfortunately, our concerns that the Lidice Memorial is not the appropriate body to implement the project of administering this site where the victims of the genocide against Romani and Sinti people are to be honored have been borne out. We continue to insist that the project ordered by Government Decree no. 589 of 4 May 2009, which merely involved landscaping improvements around the site of the former concentration camp, is insufficient in and of itself.

The stench from the pig farm that continues to stand on that site makes it impossible to engage in reverent reflection there. As Simon Wiesenthal wrote of the concentration camp at Lety:  "The deaths of 241 children are calling for justice."

On behalf of the Committee for the Redress of the Roma Holocaust in the Czech Republic, the surviving relatives of the victims of the concentration camp at Lety by Písek:

Dáša Šubrtová, Antonie Šubrtová, František Šubrt, Věra Steinová, Jan Stein, Jan Růžička, Antonín Růžička, Filomena Růžičková, Anna Richtrová, Rudolf Richtr, Robert Berousek, Karel Berousek, Hana Berousková, Anna Pehová, Jan Peha, Jan Růžička, Hana Nová, Libuše Pehová, Anna Pehová, Jana Kokyová, Marie Danišová, Miroslav Daniš, Josef Berousek, Jan Hauer, Čeněk Růžička, Čeněk Růžička, Jr., Pavel Růžička, Zoja Růžičková, Magdaléna Růžičková, František Janďourek, Jindřiška Vrbová, Jan Růžička, Marie Růžičková, Antonín Vrba, Antonín Hauer, Marie Hauerová, Karel Chadraba, Jan Serynek, Antonie Burianská

Organizations:
o.s.Forum CZ, the Equal Opportunities Party (Strana rovných příležitostí), Roma aven jekhetane, o.s SRNMPK, o.s. Khamoro, o.s. Konexe, o.s. Euroroma Hodonín

Výbor pro odškodnění romského holocaustu, o. s. (Committee for the Redress of the Roma Holocaust), translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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